Eighty-Eight Temple Pilgrimage

The 88 Temple Pilgrimage (八十八ヶ所巡り hachijūhakkasho-meguri) is Japan's mostfamous pilgrimage route, a 1,200 kilometre circuit around the island ofShikoku.

Many of the temples are said to have beenfounded or restored by the revered monk and scholar Kūkai (空海), better known by his posthumous title KōbōDaishi (弘法大師). Among his manyachievements, he is said to have created the kana syllabary, brought thetantric teachings of Esoteric Buddhism from China, developed it into theuniquely Japanese Shingon sect, and founded Shingon's headquarters on MountKoya near Osaka.

While most modern-day pilgrims travel bytour bus, a small minority still set out the old-fashioned way on foot, ajourney which takes about six weeks to complete. Pilgrims, known as o-henro-san(お遍路さん), can be spotted inthe temples and roadsides of Shikoku clad in a white jacket emblazoned with thecharacters Dōgyō Ninin (同行二人), meaning "twotraveling together" — the other traveler being the spirit of Kobo Daishi. 

The Pilgrimage

It is traditional to prepare by visiting Mount Koya, but the route itselfstarts at Ryōzenji, near Tokushima, to where you have to return in order tocomplete the pilgrimage. It is not necessary to start at temple no 1. as longas you visit them all, but this is by far the most popular starting point forpilgrims from outside Shikoku, because it's also the closest if coming from Mt.Koya. The temples are usually visited in clockwise order – this is a conventionand worth following since the waymarking is based on going in thisdirection.

There is a book of maps available which shows the walking route. This is reallyan essential tool and may be bought locally. The text is in Japanese but themaps are very useful. It also contains useful telephone numbers and addresses.

Good physical fitness and stamina isrequired to deal with the hills of Shikoku, in the sun and the rain. Theweather can be perilous at times; even during the optimal seasons of spring andfall, it may rain for days — particularly in the south. Proper preparation andstaying up to date with weather reports is a must. In Kochi Prefecture themajor towns are far apart, and the coast is lined with small fishing towns thattend to shut down by eight in the evening, making it difficult to find accommodation.Note the presence of highly venomous Pit Vipers - when walking through brush orgrass, stomping or otherwise making noise will divert most snakes from yourpath.

April and October are the best times todo the pilgrimage, though accommodation will be busy. The least busy time isJuly or August but the heat is intense.


When you wear the traditional henro robes, people will recognize you as apilgrim, and will offer you small gifts (osettai),which you must always accept. 

Traditional pilgrim clothing:

  • Byakue — the white coat of a pilgrim.
  • Wagesa — scarf worn around the neck,usually purple, to indicate that you are on a religious pilgrimage.
  • Sugegasa — conical straw hat.
  • Kongōtsue — walking stick.

In addition, most pilgrims carry a bookcalled nōkyōchō, a sort of pilgrimpassport, which is stamped by each temple you visit. All of these items can bepurchased at Mount Koya or at Ryozenji, the first temple.

In addition to the main pilgrimage onthe island of Shikoku, there are miniature versions of the pilgrimage north ofTakamatsu on the island of Shōdoshima, and on the grounds of Ninna-ji Temple inKyoto. A much larger scale imitation of the Shikoku pilgrimage is located onChita peninsula, near Nagoya. 


The many small inns catering to pilgrims traveling either by foot or cartypically cost between ¥4000-7000 per night, including dinner.

Most temples provide lodging for pilgrimd, but it can be expensive.

"Henro houses" are run by families or local businesses,and offer rooms (and sometimes food) to walking henro for a very small fee — orsometimes gratis.

There are also small free lodgings called zenkonyado and tsuyadothat lodge travellers but these have very limited facilities. These were oncethe primary lodgings for walking henrobut they are few now.

Getting There

The nearest airport is Kansai (Osaka).


From the airport it is possible to go to temple number 1 by train (5 hours, 4changes in Shin-Osaka, Okayama, Takamatsu and Itano). The station close to thetemple is called Bando 板東. 

From the following cities, it is better to head for Maiko, then a bus to NarutoEki and train to Bando. 

KOBE (16mn)
OSAKA City (1h)
KYOTO (1h24) (1h Shinkansen)
NAGOYA Central airport (2h36)
TOKYO (3h27 Shinkansen)
NARITA Tokyo airport (4h32) 


From the airport - direct bus for Naruto or Tokushima. 2H45. In Naruto orTokushima, take the train for Bando 板東. From Tokushima, direct line JR Kotouku,Takamatsu 高松 direction. FromNaruto change at Ikenotani.

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